Tokyoites are uncompromising food lovers! As well-informed as they are enthusiastic, they savour every mouthful with the greatest of care. The biggest city on Earth may enjoy exotic flavours, but it prefers to give them its own spin. Five Nespresso Club Members give you their take on this megacity which is less Japan's window to the world, more the world according to the Japanese.
TOKYO IS A JUNGLE WHERE ANYTHING COULD HAPPEN AND NOTHING IS LACKING, a city which lives and breathes both creativity and simulated destruction. There are parchment lanterns, projecting only their own shadows, interchanges snaking this way and that, and roads so clean they look as if they have been carpeted. During the 2002 football World Cup in Tokyo, matches were shown on giant screens at the famous Shibuya Crossing. Thousands of fans gathered in the middle of the huge pedestrian crossing, moving back to the pavement whenever the traffic lights went to green so as not to disrupt the traffic.
THE BIGGEST CITY IN THE WORLD IS NO LESS THAN THE CAPITAL OF A NATION BURSTING WITH CHARACTER. There is no doubt that the Land of the Rising Sun woke up to some of the major issues facing the great cities of the future long before anyone else. It has even provided some solutions to problems that megacities will face in the near future, relating to the environment, overpopulation, strategies of distinction and an aesthetic of constraint and excess... But the lights it sends out on the horizon are as fragile as its red paper lanterns. As this untamed yet delicate climbing plant struggles to adjust to climates other than its own.
Yumiko “Hanachiyo” Singer master florist, member since 2009
Her floral arrangements bring together Japanese sensibility and a French perspective, two worlds as dissimilar from one another as the moss temple is from the baroque garden. While the latter requires every living thing to bend to its architecture, the Japanese aethestic is more along the lines of a Bedouin tent where the layout of the mallets, canvas tension and size of the mat all come together in a balance which is compromised by the absence of any one component. Yumiko harmonises the poetic temperament and rhymed verse of the Japanese garden with the grand Romanesque flourishes of the French. She makes herself Espressos all day with an ESSENZA machine she has had for several years, and wishes that the HAWAII KONA Limited Edition was a permanent feature.
YUMIKO’S SELECTION HAD TO RESEMBLE A BEAUTIFUL BOUQUET. She translated the luxury of the biggest city on earth with an incredible economy of means, much like those old ink drawings from China which could conjure up a landscape with a few judicious brush strokes in the right place. The small premises of SUSHI YOSHITAKE has been awarded three Michelin stars, the highest distinction awarded by this respected observer of the culinary world. Its virtuoso chef was the one to recognise the sophistication of this cuisine of humble origins, which is to food what kabuki, a recently ennobled ancient form of entertainment, is to opera. GALLERY EF presents a poignant reminder of old Tokyo: this house survived the Edo era and now plays host to performances on the biwa, an instrument like a guttural lute, dating from the very origins of Japan. The BABY DOLL TOKYO boutique presents another side of the capital: that of fetishism, the weakness of idolaters: corsets, fishnet stockings, garters and other risqué undergarments have been all the rage since Lady Gaga had some of her stage costumes designed here. In Roppongi, a small area of the city whose energy is provided by huge Rolls-Royce turbines, the exhibition spaces of the MORI ART MUSEUM can just as well host Art Nouveau collections as free compositions on love. Not far from there, the GRAND HYATT hotel is flooded every weekend by Tokyoites in need of some indulgence enjoying a holiday in the city. Its Shunbou restaurant maintains the very strict rules of “Ryotei”, Japanese fine dining.
Katsuhiko Shimaji writer-barman, member since 2008
Mr Shimaji, the former editor-in-chief of Japanese Playboy, now publishes a luxurious editorial entitled “Magna Carta” to which his writer friends contribute news items, interviews and refined culinary articles, ranging from a review of a brown bear steak tasting, to a report on fermented foods. As well as editing this masculine cultural review, Mr Shimaji also sets forth his conception of virile elegance in a corner of Isetan department store in Shinjuku. Every Saturday and Sunday afternoon, he personally serves Cuban cigars, Japanese single malts and Nespresso Grand Crus. He particularly enjoys a ROMA which he drinks by the rules as a carefully brewed Espresso. In terms of machines, he naturally gravitates towards the U, whose flexibility means it can fit into any kitchen.
TO MR SHIMAJI, TOKYO IS A CITY OF CONSTANT ACTIVITY, YET WHICH MAINTAINS AN UNRUFFLED EXTERIOR, JUST AS THE SURFACE OF A CALM SEA MASKS THE LIFE SWIRLING BENEATH. Although you can taste food from many different cultures in Tokyo, it has often been adapted by Japanese chefs who came across it in other countries. It is as if this city preferred an adaptation to the original, creating a universality which reflects back only its own face, a voyage from the self to the self. A vision of the world which exempts this country from having to truly interact with others. Frenchman Christophe Paucod is one of the few ex-pat chefs who has successfully altered the cuisine of his birthplace to suit the Japanese palate. His restaurant, LUGDUNUM, translates the exuberance of classic Lyonnais dishes into a more minimalist setting, perfectly encapsulating modernity and a celebratory spirit. Demonstrating a similar tension between the future and tradition, the noble MEIJI SHRINE juxtaposes teenagers dressed like Harajuku cake toppers, whose zany appropriation of western clothing displays a curious mix of exuberance and inhibition. In the Ginza district, the old facade of the famed KABUKI-ZA THEATRE has been re-created rather than restored, with the result that the new temple to Japanese epic drama only hints at what came before, like a computer-generated image. In Roppongi, MADURO bar with its leather-topped counter has developed an exhaustive menu of grain spirits, delighting this lover of single malts who is so greatly admired for his SALON SHIMAJI at Isetan Men’s department store. The writer explores the subjects of his next books with his fans, mixing soda with whiskey from Suntory distilleries.
Mari Kubota designer, member since 2013
This young woman develops small products on behalf of businesses who want to promote their brand identity through personalised products. For example, she has designed a pocket-sized dressing-room mirror complete with a circle of lights, which allows you to network in a night club queue. It can now be found in concept stores the world over. What she finds exciting about Tokyo is the way the city appropriates global fashion trends without losing its own identity. A little like the teenagers of Omotesando overloaded with imported clothing and accessories, whose creative ways of combining items lend them an indefinably Japanese air. Mari brews herself DECAFFEINATO latte until late at night with an Electric Lime PIXIE which matches her green living space.
THE LONG AXIS OF GINKGO AVENUE IS LINED WITH HUGE, AGE-OLD TREES, WHOSE FAN-LIKE LEAVES ARE THE EMBLEM OF THE CITY OF TOKYO. With a melancholy reminiscent of a Kawabata novel, this unchanging part of town comes into its own in autumn and has remained relatively tourist-free, despite its proximity to the Meiji shrine. Far from the fierce parades of Harajuku youth, RESTAURANT I serves Franco-Japanese fusion cuisine as cheeky as the aforementioned sartorial experiments. Its chef trained alongside two-Michelin-starred Niçois Keisuke Matsuchima in the Côte d’Azur. At HONMURA AN, there is the curious sensation of being seated with other refugees of the urban explosion. The restaurant’s speciality is soba noodles, which diners eat quickly so as to capture and recreate every aromatic nuance on the palate, much like someone appreciating a coffee. HIGASHI-YAMA has an ambiance somewhere between the architecture of Le Corbusier and an opium den, converging on the waxed concrete counter of the attractive open kitchen. The menu is less bipolar, particular highlights including thick wheat noodles served in cooking water flavoured with yuzu, and a coconut flan balanced by a bitter matcha tea reduction. Finally, the bookshop complex that is DAIKANYAMA T. SITE has risen from the ashes of digitalisation, like a sort of rehab centre for cultural content, whether music, newspapers, literature or films; a centre of gravity for these worlds fast losing their attraction.
Toshikazu Iwaya stylist, member since 2008
Toshikazu is a designer for clothing label Dress Camp, and confesses a love of vibrant colours. His designs combine street style with the ceremony of historic Japanese clothing. Despite appearances, Tokyo is a city which seeks out flashes of colour. Not without reason, we imagine its pavements to be filled with grey-suited penpushers, but this funereal costume of post-war bureaucrats never truly stifled the city’s taste for the bright, exciting but never garish colours which were the pride and joy of city-dwellers in days gone by. This thoroughly refutes the idea that Japan turns its nose up at sensuality, or finds pleasure and enjoyment painful. Toshikazu swears by Pure Origin INDRIYA from India Grand Cru, which he drinks as an Espresso brewed in his PIXIE machine.
THE FAMED GOOD MANNERS OF TOKYO’S INHABITANTS DO NOT GET IN THE WAY OF THEM HAVING SOME FUN. One of the best ways to have a good time in the city is through its myriad of restaurants, each of which specialise in one particular ingredient, dressing or way of preparing food. At KANEISHI, the chef is a former baseball champion complete with bandana and sweatbands who has reinvented himself, taking up the most physical of Japanese cooking forms, teppanyaki: the art of cooking on an iron griddle. Teppanyaki has been hugely successful in the States, where it has become an elaborate gymnastic display. Here, you can expect physicality, rather than cheap tricks. Seated at the bar, dishes are prepared before your eyes as the suspense builds: yam pancakes melting with fried egg, sauté tripe with lotus roots stuffed with caviar, dashi-soaked crepes rolled up like cigars and served on pork belly and onion leaves then caramelised with soy sauce... NARUKIYO is another restaurant managed by a charismatic chef, with a reputation for offering customers a list of quality ingredients from which they create a personalised menu. Most of the ingredients likely come from the TSUKIJI MARKET, which is a real journey to the depths of the ocean in the middle of Tokyo. If you do not make it to the incredible tuna auction which takes place before sunrise, go along to sample the amazing variety of sushi bars (in particular the Ryiu bar) which cling to the outskirts of the market like barnacles to a whale. Every bit as exotic, LE PAZ café is an oasis of calm in a city always rushing onwards, while clothing store DRESS CAMP makes use of whimsical prints and bright colours.
Tetsuyuki Kokin graphic artist, member since 2007
His first job as a typographer got him designing logos, and also led him to design a font for both alphabetic writing and Japanese characters (the not inconsequential task of nearly 8000 printing characters each produced in normal and capital letters). Unlike traditional calligraphy using a paintbrush, modern fonts do not require a skilled writer, but demand perfect writing. They fill the gap between unique, one-off works and dull uniformity. In Japan, this came about as the result of developments in parallel with progress, unlike the luminous signs which naively decorate Chinese skyscrapers without seeming to have lost their primitive, talismanic quality. Tetsuyuki uses his PIXIE to brew Espressos made with ARPEGGIO Grand Cru during the day, and DECAFFEINATO INTENSO in the evening.
JAPAN IS AN ORDERED COUNTRY, WHOSE VERY GEOGRAPHY SUGGESTS A READING DIRECTION, A FRONT PAGE AND FLIP SIDE. Tokyo is located on the right side of the map, on the part destined to be seen. That does not stop underground sushi bar NUMAZUKOU from serving raw fish dishes from Tetsuyuki Kokin’s homeland on Japan’s flip side, on its eastern shore: the blind side of the country, where comforts are limited. From the side that can be seen, Tuscan restaurant BICE enjoys an unbeatable view over the Port of Tokyo and its walls often host works by contemporary artists. A five-minute walk from Tetsuyuki’s home is the IMPERIAL PALACE, home to the oldest monarchy in the world, now devoid of any governmental responsibilities and whose only power consists of unveiling the chrysanthemums in the palace gardens. When not visiting these spots, Tetsuyuki goes to NIHONBASHI BRIDGE, which offers one of the most striking views of the peaceful coexistence of successive centuries in the Japanese capital. Such is the case with TOKYO STATION, a combination of the Far East and the Wild West, combining exotic and indigenous features, such as its fine slate dome and puritanical facade. It brings to mind an Asian operatic spin on a Chopin composition, denatured en route so that all dissonances and unexpected twists are smoothed out to create a fluid piece. Behind the prestigious shop front, the station houses an ambitious shopping centre, whose logo Tetsuyuki Kokin is proud to have designed.
RENDEZ-VOUS AT THE NESPRESSO OMOTESANDO
Atsushi Uchida, national boutique manager in Japan, tells us how the people of Tokyo have taken to Nespresso and its Grand Crus.
TELL US ABOUT THE OMOTESANDO BOUTIQUE.
Atsushi Uchida: The boutique is our flagship, the biggest space dedicated to Nespresso in Japan. Its striking façade is ideal for showcasing the brand. It hosts exhibitions by local artists who are inspired by our world, like the multi-media artist, Asami Kiyokawa, whose work has been here since our launch. We also have an “experiential centre”, providing two levels of introductory sessions for clients who are passionate about learning more about coffee (see our Experts section).
WHERE IS THE BOUTIQUE?
A. U.: It is on Omotesando Avenue, an iconic road at the heart of Tokyo. The megacity does not really have a city centre and is actually just a cluster of villages that were swallowed up by rapid urban development. We are in a thriving commercial area which is starting to prove an alternative to Ginza, the leading upscale district in the capital.
WHO ARE YOUR CUSTOMERS?
A. U.: People from all over Tokyo, Japan and even Asia come to us. During office hours, many office workers come here to relax between meetings. They immediately took to this boutique when it opened last spring.
HOW DO THEY TAKE THEIR COFFEE?
A. U.: The Japanese are used to drinking their coffee with milk and our customers appreciate the diverse range of recipes that they can try using our technology. Iced coffee is also very popular in this country and we have even installed an ice dispenser in the boutique.
WHICH NESPRESSO CHARACTERISTICS DO YOUR CUSTOMERS IDENTIFY WITH?
A. U.: Precision, without doubt. They have picked up on the incredible accuracy of our methods, from the quality of coffee-bean selection to the clarity of our range of Limited Editions, each standing out from each other, the perfect amount in each capsule and the high-performance system used to preserve freshly-ground coffee. And of course, there’s the rigorous extraction process which helps create the perfect Espresso, at the right temperature and ready to be enjoyed. Finally, the people of Tokyo are attracted to the compact nature of our machines. Don’t forget that they mainly live in small apartments. To them, the “U” machine in particular seems to perfectly combine design and performance.
WHERE CAN I GET A NESPRESSO COFFEE IN TOKYO?
Asia’s top restaurant (and 20th best in the world) according to the San Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants listing. Yoshihiro Narisawa’s establishment is one of the highlights of new Japanese cuisine.
Part of Lost in Translation, the unforgettable Sofia Coppola film starring Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson, was filmed at the New York Grill.
Hello Kitty Café Restaurant
This coffee shop is a shrine to the most famous kitten in the world.
Text Julien Bouré - Photography Jean-Claude Amiel - Production Sandrine Giacobetti